Thought of the Day: We have gamed through a privileged era

I have been mulling over EVE and pondering why PvP sandboxes seem so much easier to set up than PvE ones. It’s related to why competitive games are easier to set up than co-operative ones. With EVE in particular, the griefing culture isn’t purely down to character progression since there are plenty of choices in how to play the economic and PvP game, not all of which involve scams or griefing.

Partly it’s due to the content issue: players will happily compete against other players when dropped into a sandbox. Some will happily continue to compete in the similar scenarios ad infinitum. It’s cheaper and easier for players to entertain each other than to need a constant stream of PvE content.

But it’s also because people generally only co-operate when they don’t have a choice. Many enjoy co-operating in groups but if they didn’t need the group then they might not join in the first place. Competition seems to come more naturally to us, maybe we’re socialised into it.

The internet in general has been friendlier towards strongly co-operative games than you’d expect. This I think is because the early adopters were blown away by being able to interact online with other people from around the world in real time. Our first inclination was not to try to fight them, but to get together and build stuff. That’s the culture in which early MUDs and MMOs were born. And it’s also no surprise that so many early designers had been avid roleplayers — pen and paper RPGs are one of the few breeds of tabletop game that are genuinely co-operative.  I suspect that culture  will be seen as an anomaly.

Those of us who have been able to play games online where grouping was strongly encouraged, where co-operation was part of the game’s culture, where players were inclined to trust others until they did something to prove untrustworthy, and where people were prepared to put their own interests second to be part of the group have been privileged to be part of a gaming culture that is vanishing. Even though those games may have been deeply frustrating at times, they represent a very unique experience.

The Miracle of Tol Barad

If you have been following any WoW blogs at all, you have probably realised that Tol Barad, the new open worldish PvP zone, and inheritor of the Wintergrasp mantle has been a complete clusterfuck.

Problem 1: How to find your PvP zone

Tol Barad is actually a zone in two sections. One which has a bunch of annoying daily quests, designed to encourage PvP by setting both horde and alliance after the same NPCs. It also features fast spawning mobs with massive aggro ranges, and – naturally – lots of nice reputation rewards such as weapons to encourage people to keep plodding through dailies there anyway.

The second part of the zone is the area where the 2 hourly PvP battles happen. I spent at least a month wondering why I never saw any of the PvP when I was doing my dailies and it was announced that the battle was on. The reason is that there’s actually no signposting at all to the PvP section of the zone.

tolbaradmap

The bridge that I’ve marked in red is actually the route to the PvP section. It isn’t marked and there aren’t any breadcrumb quests to take you there.  (You can also get ported there via the PvP tab, of course.)

So you can do your daily quests in Tol Barad without ever either engaging in PvP or encountering the battles for the zone. Some people would see this as a good thing. I think it’s just bizarre.

Problem 2: Unbalanced PvP

The actual battleground section has a central keep, three surrounding buildings and three surrounding towers. When the battle is on, the attacking force has to take and hold the three surrounding buildings at the same time. The defending force has to stop them. Each faction is nominally there with similar amounts of players.

What could possibly go wrong with this scheme? Apart from the fact that the attackers need to split their forces into at least three parts and the defenders just have to stop them holding one building for 10 mins to win.

Problem 3: This isn’t a fix so much as a bribe

The better fix would be having NPCs take the central keep or something and just get both attackers and defenders to have to hold as many buildings as possible.

But actually what Blizzard did was increase the rewards for when the attackers win. 1800 honor points (which is what you get for an attacking victory) will buy you at least one piece of PvP gear. Do this a few more times and you’ll have a full set.

The miracle of match fixing

You might think that it wouldn’t really matter how large the bribes were if it was still so much harder for attackers to win. And you’d be right if just about every server in both US and EU hadn’t started to arrange match fixing. I checked through several realm forums on the official site and every single one had a thread about Tol Barad, suggesting exactly this.

All that needs to happen is for the defending side to not try very hard so that the attackers always win. That way both faction get lots of freebie honor points for winning as attackers, the zone changes hands every 2 hours and everyone gets a chance to do the extra dailies that are awarded to the winner.

I know a lot of people view this as cheating but I am so impressed that pretty much all the playerbase, with minimal interaction, got its head together to cooperate on this. This is what I call the miracle of Tol Barad, and I hope other game designers are paying attention.

It’s normally so hard to get people to cooperate even minimally and Blizzard just pretty much threw some free loot at people with an obvious optimal strategy (let the zone switch hands every fight) and they’ve all been able to communicate, organise, cooperate, and profit.

Shame it had to ruin the one way I had found to make money as a blacksmith though, in selling starter PvP gear …